Uploaded by Angela Goma Trubceac

The Inquiry Arc 3c framework

The C3 Framework
Social Education 77(6), pp 322–326, 351
©2013 National Council for the Social Studies
From Inquiry Arc to
Instructional Practice:
The Potential of the C3 Framework
S. G. Grant
Students are clear: They do not like social studies.1 What they dislike, however, is
not the civic, economic, geographic, and historical ideas they encounter so much as
the instructional practices they experience. And instructional experiences matter:
Students who read more than textbooks, who write more than end-of-the-chapter
questions, and who have more rather than fewer opportunities to discuss ideas outperform their peers in more traditional classroom settings.2 Smith and Niemi argue
that “if faced with a choice of only one ‘solution’ to raise history scores, it is clear that
instructional changes have the most powerful relationship to student performance.”3
Although numerous attempts have
been made to revitalize social studies,
the bulk of them have focused on
curricular reforms rather than on
instruction.4 The Inquiry Arc featured
in the C3 Framework is a form of
guidance for social studies curriculum
writers. 5 It also represents an approach
to instructional planning that moves
away from traditional textbook coverage
to a model that is more consistent with
the research on ambitious social studies
Overview of the Inquiry Arc
“We begin with the hypothesis,” asserts
Jerome Bruner, “that any subject can be
taught effectively in some intellectually
honest form to any child at any stage of
development.” 7
Bruner’s quote is not cited in the
C3 Framework, but its spirit runs
throughout the document in general
and the Inquiry Arc in particular.
Defined as a set of interlocking and
mutually reinforcing elements, the four
dimensions of the Inquiry Arc speak to
the intersection of ideas and learners.
Those four dimensions are:
1. Developing questions and
planning inquiries;
2. Applying disciplinary concepts
and tools;
3. Evaluating sources and using
evidence; and
4. Communicating conclusions
and taking informed action.
Key to the Inquiry Arc is the use of
questions. As noted in the Scholarly
Rationale of the C3 Framework,
“children and adolescents are naturally
curious, and they are especially curious
about the complex and multifaceted
world they inhabit.”8 Curiosity drives
interest and interest drives knowledge,
understanding, and engagement. At heart,
social studies is about understanding
the things people do. Whether those
things are brave, ambitious, and
inventive or cowardly, naïve, and silly,
social studies is about using questions to
direct our investigations into the world
S o c i a l E d u c at i o n
around us. Dimension 1, then, features
the development of questions and the
planning of inquiries.
If social studies is about understanding
why people do the things they do, then
Dimension 2–Applying Disciplinary
Concepts and Tools—is a fundamental
step in the Inquiry Arc. With a robust
instructional question in mind, teachers
and students determine the kind of
content they need in order to create a
plan to address their questions. This
process is an artful balancing act;
teachers must preload some disciplinary
content when developing questions
with their students. At the same time,
teachers must provide students with
enough content to propel their inquiries
without quashing their curiosity or,
worse yet, doing their work for them.
Children will naturally begin
proposing solutions to instructional
que st ion s ba sed on t hei r l ived
experiences. Rich social studies teaching,
however, offers students opportunities to
answer those questions more thoroughly
through disciplinary (civic, economic,
geographical, and historical) and multidisciplinary venues. Dimension 2 sets
forth concepts from the disciplines, such
as the historian’s habit of accounting
for how perspectives of people in the
present shape their interpretations of
the past. This practice from history
and the distinctive habits of thinking
from other disciplines inform students’
investigations and contribute to an
November 21–23, 2014
Join NCSS next fall
for the 94TH
Annual Conference
in Historic Boston
Boston’s rich history and vibrant
neighborhoods come alive at the 94th
NCSS Annual Conference, November
21–23, 2014. Join NCSS in its first
return to New England in more than
30 years for the world’s largest and
most comprehensive social studies
professional development conference.
Attend the 94th NCSS Annual
Conference to gain new ideas,
resources, and skills as the conference
engages you in rich and varied learning
opportunities. Join more than 3,000
of your peers from across the U.S. and
around the world in historic Boston,
to share the most current knowledge,
ideas, research, and expertise in social
studies education, and have a wicked
good time!
Opens in June!
Confirmed Speaker
Ken Burns
instructional framework for teaching
social studies.
Instructional questions posed may
demand content representing a single
discipline. For example, a question
like “Which will you buy—lunch or a
new video game?” would have teachers
and students draw primarily from the
concepts of economics. A question that
asks, “Has the definition of ‘Americans’
changed over time?” would feature
concepts from civics/political science.
Many questions, however, can best be
explored through the use of multiple
disciplines. For example, a contemporary
environmental question such as
“Should transcontinental pipelines be
banned?” demands the use of economic,
geographical, historical, and political
With a question in hand and a sense
of the relevant concepts and ideas, the
Inquiry Arc turns toward the matter of
sources and evidence. Social studies,
like science, is an evidence-based field.
The disciplinary concepts represented in
Dimension 2 provide a solid base from
which students can begin constructing
answers to their questions. Equally
important, however, is knowing how
to fill in the gaps in their knowledge by
learning how to work with sources and
evidence in order to develop explanations
and to make persuasive arguments in
support of their conclusions.
Evidence can come in many forms,
including historical and contemporary
documents, data from direct observation
in environments, graphics, economic
statistics, and legislative actions and
court rulings. Digital sources are now
also more readily available than ever via
the Internet. That said, not all sources are
equal in value and use. Sources do not, by
themselves, constitute evidence. Rather,
evidence results from the choices made
by teachers and students to appropriate
information from sources in support of
an explanation or argument. Helping
students develop a capacity for gathering,
“This book should be used
in every high school
history class in America.”
– Scripps News Service
“Fantastic for teens.”
– Book Legion
“Highly recommended
for those older kids in
your life.”
– Wired.com
Information and To Order:
Steve Daubenspeck
Zenith Press
S o c i a l E d u c at i o n
evaluating, and then using sources in
responsible ways is a central feature of
Dimension 3.
For example, a question like “Was the
Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s a
success?” demands that students examine
more than one or two sources. A wide
range of perspectives is available in
both primary and secondary form, and
so having students gather, evaluate,
and use a subset of those sources offers
teachers opportunities to make key
instructional points about the nature
of evidence. Those activities also offer
students opportunities to demonstrate
their abilities to develop explanations
and to make and support arguments in
answer to their questions.
Breaking the power of the multiplechoice test, developing explanations
and making and supporting arguments
can take the form of individual essays,
group projects, and other classroombased written assessments, both formal
and informal. But they need not be
limited to those options for there are any
number of ways that students can express
the evolution of their ideas. Although
there is no substitute for thoughtful and
persuasive writing, Dimension 4 of the
Inquiry Arc supports expanding the
means by which students communicate
their findings and conclusions. It also
expands the venues in which students
participate. Classroom and school sites
are important arenas for students as they
work through their ideas. But if students
are to take informed action—the second
aspect of Dimension 4—then they will
need to be able to interact in other arenas
as well—from cross town to across the
globe. Defining questions, seeking the
best knowledge available, examining and
using source material, and constructing
and communicating conclusions are
the hallmark qualities of thoughtful
and engaged students. Helping students
prepare for civic life demands new means
of expressing themselves and new settings
in which to do so.
In one sense, Dimension 4 closes
the Inquiry Arc. Every good teacher
knows, however, that teaching and
learning play off one another—new
sources can lead to new disciplinary
and multi-disciplinary concepts, new
concepts can lead to new questions,
and new questions can lead to new
audiences. The Inquiry Arc, then,
offers teachers multiple opportunities
to involve students in powerful
learning opportunities and to develop
as thoughtful, engaged citizens.
The C3 Framework in general
and the Inquiry Arc in particular
were designed to help state and local
curriculum writers retool their social
studies standards. To that purpose, I
would offer a second—the Inquiry Arc
as an instructional arc, a lesson and unit
planning approach that foregrounds the
use of teacher- and student-developed
Compelling Questions
Pushed into the classroom, the Inquiry
Arc challenges some basic and longheld instructional practices. Perhaps
the most challenging element, however,
is designing lessons and units around
Teachers have long used questions
as part of their pedagogical repertoire.
But there is a big difference between
using questions to check for student
understanding and using questions
to frame a teaching and learning
inquiry. Good questions can be
difficult to create, but they can also
help teachers and their students focus
their inquiries and produce powerful
learning outcomes.
Questions, as envisioned in the
Inquiry Arc, are of two types—
compelling and supporting. Compelling
questions address “problems and issues
found in and across the academic
disciplines that make up social
studies.”9 They “deal with curiosities
about how things work; interpretations
and applications of disciplinary
concepts; and unresolved issues that
require students to construct arguments
in response.”10 In short, compelling
questions are provocative, engaging,
and worth spending time on.
Compelling questions must satisfy
two conditions. First, they have to
be intellectually meaty. That means
that a compelling question needs to
reflect an enduring issue, concern,
or debate in social studies and it
has to draw on multiple disciplines.
For example, “Was the American
Revolution revolutionary?” works as
a compelling question because it signals
a continuing argument about how to
interpret the results of the Revolution.
And, although it sounds like a history
question, to address it fully demands
that one must look at it through a
range of disciplinary lenses—Did the
Revolution yield dramatic political
change? Economic? Social? All of the
The second condition defining a
compelling question is the need to be
student-friendly. By student-friendly,
I mean a question that reflects some
quality or condition that teachers know
students care about and that honors
and respects students’ intellectual
efforts. The American Revolution
question above seems to fit these
qualifications as well: It brings students
into an authentic debate and it offers
the possibility that adults may be
confused—how could the American
Revolution not be revolutionary? The
latter is a condition that students tend
to find especially fascinating.
Quiz time: Which of the following
examples fit the criteria for a compelling
1. Why do we need rules?
2. What are the five largest
sources of oil for U.S. markets?
3. Why is Albany the capital of
New York?
4. Who are our community
5. Can Canada and the U.S. be
friends forever?
6. Who won the Cold War?
I would argue that numbers 1, 3,
5, and 6 fit the bill as compelling
questions. For example, “Can Canada
and the U.S. be friends forever?”
N o v e m b e r / D e c e m b e r 2 0 13
American Art
is present.
June 23–27, 2014
July 28–August 1, 2014
Make history present at the
Smithsonian American Art Museum’s
Summer Institutes: Teaching
the Humanities through Art.
Explore connections among
American art, technology, and
your curricula during a week-long
program in Washington, D.C.
Alex Katz, Washington Crossing the Delaware: American Flag, Boat, and Soldiers (detail), 1961.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson, Martha Jackson
Memorial Collection
satisfies the student-friendly criteria in
that it keys off the idea that young people
find the notion of friendship intriguing.
On the substantive side, the notion of
U.S.-Canada relations can be explored
on multiple disciplinary dimensions.
Think about it: If the U.S. and Canada
compete on an economic level, can they
still maintain good relationships on the
political and/or social level? Similarly,
the question, “Who won the Cold
War?” qualifies as a compelling question
because it meets the intellectually meaty
criteria of highlighting a genuine dispute
and the student interest criteria because it
presumes that students can offer a useful
perspective on the question through the
arguments they make.
By contrast, “What are the five largest
sources of oil for U.S. markets?” and
“Who are our community helpers” may
be useful in developing a larger inquiry,
but on their own, they do not carry the
day either in terms of substantive or
student interest engagement.
Supporting Questions
From an instructional perspective, if a
compelling question helps frame a unit of
study, supporting questions can provide
the infrastructure for lesson planning.
Supporting questions are “intended
to contribute knowledge and insights
to the inquiry behind a compelling
question.” Furthermore, they “focus on
descriptions, definitions, and processes
on which there is general agreement.”11 In
other words, supporting questions help
scaffold students’ investigations into the
ideas and issues behind a compelling
For the question about the revolutionary
elements of the American Revolution,
supporting questions could include the
following: What were the regulations
imposed on the colonists under the Stamp
and Townshend Acts? How did colonists
respond? What were the arguments for
and against the Revolution? What were
the political conditions in America
before and after the Revolution? What
were the economic conditions before
and after the Revolution? What were
the social conditions before and after
the Revolution? Supporting questions
like these offer important pedagogical
support, but typically lack either
the intellectual heft or the student
connections necessary to be considered
a compelling question.
Returning to the list of questions in
the preceding sections, I would argue
that “What are the five largest sources
of oil for U.S. markets?” and “Who are
our community helpers” could work
as supporting questions. For example,
identifying the sources of oil would
be helpful if students were tackling
a compelling question like, “What
path should a new transcontinental oil
pipeline take?” In similar fashion, “Who
are our community helpers” would aid an
inquiry into a question such as “Should
our community grow?”
Implications for Practice:
Thinking about What Matters
The College, Career, and Civic (C3)
Framework for Social Studies State
Standards offers a different way of
thinking about curriculum development.
Instead of advocating for the creation
of long lists of names, dates, and places,
the C3 Framework pushes curriculum
writers to think about how the meaningful
concepts and skills of civics, economics,
geography, and history play out across an
inquiry arc. Equally important, however,
may be the push the C3 Framework
offers to teachers who are interested in
employing an inquiry approach in their
instructional practice.
Taking such an approach calls for a
kind of mindfulness that echoes standard
teacher practice, but pushes well beyond
it. In teaching through inquiry, these
six distinct, but inter-related elements
1. Questions matter. Successful
teaching and learning inquiries are
built around powerful questions of two
sorts—compelling and supporting. Most
teachers and students have extensive
experience working with supportingstyle questions. Compelling questions,
S o c i a l E d u c at i o n
however, can be a challenge for teachers
to create, especially for those who
work with younger students. But if the
compelling questions offered meet the
conditions outlined above, teachers will
find that student effort and engagement
will soar.
2. Students’ questions matter. The
C3 Framework argues that questions—
both compelling and supporting—can
originate from teachers and/or students.
It does not advocate turning over the
question-developing responsibility to
kindergartners, but it does promote
the idea that students should play an
increasingly prominent role in defining
inquiry questions over the course of their
school lives. Needless to say, teachers
play a key role in helping students
identify compelling questions that will
work for instructional purposes.
3. Language matters. If we are going
to take Bruner’s quote at the beginning
of this article seriously, then we need to
realize that one of the biggest challenges
teachers and students will face is at the
level of language. This issue has two
dimensions. First, although students
can grasp almost any social studies
construct through their lived experience,
they do not always have the language
or vocabulary to participate fully in
classroom discourse. (Imagine, for
example, a student who misses the point
of a discussion because he or she does
not understand the difference between
guerrilla and gorilla warfare.)
The second challenge lies more on
the teacher’s side: One of the trickiest
parts of being an inquiry-based teacher
is learning how to “hear” the kernels of
rich ideas in what seems like the fumbling,
inarticulate, and confusing things that
students of all ages say. Students can
be useful partners in constructing
compelling questions, but only if we can
help them articulate their ideas.
continued on page 351
From Inquiry Arc to
Instructional Practice
from page 326
4. Resources matter. Again, if we are
going to take Bruner’s view seriously, we
need to realize the challenges teachers and
kids face at the resource level. Students
bring considerable life experience to their
understanding of social studies ideas. To
help them grow beyond the limits of their
own experiences requires a range of highquality and accessible resources.
5. Writing matters. Whether it is in the
form of an oral report, an essay, a debate,
or a blog, good social studies teaching and
learning demands the capacity to write
well. Explanations and arguments are at
the heart of the ways in which students
present their ideas.
6. Trust matters. The Inquiry Arc
reflects a level of trust between teachers
and students that is not part of the
traditional pattern of schooling. Good
teachers know that students will blunder
sometimes as they embrace the greater
responsibilities an inquiry approach
demands, but they also know that students
will not become the kinds of life-long
learners that we desire if they are not
trusted to take an active role in their own
2. A. Beatty, C. Reese, H. Persky, and P. Carr, U.S.
History Report Card (Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, 1996); D. Hess,
Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic
Power of Discussion (New York: Routledge, 2009).
3. J.B. Smith and R. Niemi, “Learning History in
School: The Impact of Course Work and
Instructional Practice on Achievement,” Theory and
Research in Social Education, 29 (2001), 38.
4. S.G. Grant, K. Swan, and J. Lee, “Lurching toward
Coherence: An Episodic History of Curriculum and
Standards Development in Social Studies.” Featured
presentation of the Research in Social Studies SIG
at the annual conference of the American Educational
Research Association, Vancouver, BC, April 2012.
5. National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), The
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for
Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for
Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics,
Geography, and History (Silver Spring, Md.: NCSS,
2013), 16-64.
6. S.G. Grant, History Lessons: Teaching, Learning, and
Testing in U.S. High School Classrooms (Mahwah,
N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006); eds. S.G.
Grant and J.M. Gradwell, Teaching History with Big
Ideas: Cases of Ambitious Teachers (New York:
Rowman & Littlefield, 2010).
7. J. Bruner, The Process of Education (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1960), 33.
8. The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework
for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for
Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics,
Geography, and History, 83.
9. Ibid., 97.
10. Ibid., 23.
11. Ibid.
12. Grant, History Lessons; Grant and Gradwell,
Teaching History with Big Ideas; S. Van Hover,
“Teaching History in the Old Dominion: The Impact
of Virginia’s Accountability Reform on Seven
Secondary Beginning History Teachers,” in
Measuring History: Cases of State-Level Testing
across the United States, ed. S.G. Grant (Greenwich,
Conn.: Information Age Publishing, 2010), 195-220;
B. VanSledright, In Search of America’s Past:
Learning to Read History in Elementary School
(New York: Teachers College Press, 2002).
Get a Copy.
Share the Plan.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3)
Framework for Social Studies State
Standards: State Guidance for
Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics,
Economics, Geography, and History
The Framework was developed to offer
guidance for state social studies standards.
The shared principles that drive the
Framework are:
Social studies prepares the nation’s
young people for college, careers, and
civic life.
Inquiry is at the heart of social studies.
Social studies involves
interdisciplinary applications and
welcomes integration of the arts and
Social studies is composed of deep
and enduring understandings,
concepts, and skills from the
disciplines. Social studies emphasizes
skills and practices as preparation for
democratic decision-making.
Social studies education should have
direct and explicit connections to the
Common Core State Standards for
English Language Arts and Literacy in
History/Social Studies
Teaching through an inquiry approach
demands the skilled use of questions to
frame units of study and to develop the
necessary scaffolding so that even young
children can examine issues of substance
and interest. It is not a teaching approach
for the faint hearted, but the research
evidence gathered to date that supports
the C3 Framework, suggests that students
will embrace it.12
1. T. Epstein, Interpreting National History: Race,
Identity, and Pedagogy in Classrooms and
Communities (New York: Routledge, 2009); M.
Schug, R. Todd, and R. Beery, “Why Kids Don’t
Like Social Studies,” Social Education 47, no. 5
(1984), 382-387.
S.G. Grant is founding dean of the Graduate
School of Education at Binghamton University. He is
the author of numerous books and articles on teaching
history. Most of this article also appears in a chapter by
the author, “From Inquiry Arc to Instructional Practice,”
published in NCSS Bulletin 113, Social Studies for the
Next Generation: Purposes, Practices, and Implications
of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework
for Social Studies State Standards.
N o v e m b e r / D e c e m b e r 2 0 13
The C3 Framework changes the conversation about literacy instruction in social
studies by creating a context that is meaningful and purposeful. Reading, writing,
speaking and listening and language skills
are critically important for building disciplinary literacy and the skills needed for
college, career, and civic life.